Part 8: Prague and London

Day trip! For the past two years, we’ve taken a little day trip near London. First year, we went to Hampton Court to enjoy the King’s Christmas. Last year, we went punting in the River Cam at Cambridge. This year, we were going to Windsor Castle.

It was a quick train ride from Paddington Station to Windsor. However, as we got closer, it was evident they were feeling more of the winter than London. We saw snow and ice in varying amounts. And fog. It grew. Once we got to Windsor itself, most of the town was enveloped in a thick fog. We found the castle quickly but had to wait in line to buy tickets, once to get into the ticket hall, and then in the ticket hall itself. After a brief line at security where guards admired my husband’s wooden Czech made cane, we were in the castle complex. Well worth it.

We ran into a tour guide who gave free 20-30 minute tours of the castle. He was well-informed and funny. If you have the chance to do a free tour of Windsor, do it. He told us the legend of the founding of the Order of the Garter by Edward III. During a feast, a woman had her garter slip down her leg and everyone made fun of her. The king picked up the garter and shamed them for their unchivalrous conduct and said, “Honi soit qui mal y pense” (Shame on he who thinks evil of this). It’s the motto today. The less romantic story is that garters may have been the leather pieces that would keep armour up. He also tried to show us the nearby river overlooking the boy’s school Eton…but the fog was too thick to see it!

As time went on, I became increasingly concerned about my toes in the weather. They were so cold I actually was having difficulty walking. As soon as the tour was over, we immediately went into the State Apartments to check out the interior of the palace. What an astonishing palace! Sadly, no pictures allowed. We first were ushered into a room with china services over the years, which were amazingly ornate (and often over the top). Then we filled into a magnificent hall filled with giant paintings of past monarchs and those who did service to crown and country. We were led room by lushly furnished room. One was covered in wood with a jade collection; another had brilliant paintings from European masters. However, the most astonishing was the St. George’s Hall that contained the heraldic shields of all the knights of the Order of the Garter. To become part of the order is a very high honor, you did something of great service for queen and country. However, if you commit treason, you lose it. So the hall had some shields that were wiped out – those who had been cast out of the order…

As an added bonus, there was a little exhibition on the Queen’s wardrobe over the years. It was neat to see the various dresses worn for numerous occasions of state. It was neat to see the power of clothing. Often she would wear something on her dress, or the design itself would be a nod to the place she was staying. She did something with Celtic imagery in a visit to Ireland (or Northern Ireland) that apparently was the first of its kind by a British monarch. That’s cool. And there was a display of her hats. Glorious hats.

We also wandered into St. George’s Chapel, which is astonishingly beautiful. I was really excited to finally visit the tomb of King Henry VIII and Jane Seymour. I have a fondness for the monarch. Apparently, he’s buried with the infant child of Queen Anne. Apparently, there wasn’t a big tomb made for him like Queen Elizabeth. There appear to have been plans but clearly that didn’t happen. Very strange.

Afterwards, we had some high tea at a local hotel that we passed. Nothing like tea and scones to warm up the soul after wandering around in the cold.

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We headed back to London to catch a lovely gathering of our friends and family with the London Program at a local pub where we feasted on cheese and currants. Then we went back to our rooms, ditched all of our unnecessary accessories (purses, glasses, etc.). It was time to go to the Winter Wonderland. This too was a tradition for the past three years. We have a particular ride that we adore. It’s a giant pendulum that spins around while your seats also twist around. Nothing like seeing London flying through the air upside down! But given the upside nature of the ride, you really can’t have anything in your pockets, etc.

So we went. As per our new world order, we had to wanded down before getting into the festival. We first wandered around to see what rides we wanted to do in addition to our favorite ride. We opted for the ride that takes you very high and then drops you. Well, that proved to be a more daunting experience than I had expected. When we got strapped in and raised, we went higher than any other ride there. Into the fog. The ground disappeared below between the fog and the darkness. At the top, the ride slowly spun amidst the fog. We hung there so long that I started having concerns that the ride may have broken down (they break down eventually). After an eternity, we heard strains of “Ave Maria” and the ride suddenly dropped us.

Not doing that again.

We made our way to our favorite ride, I was a bit shaken by our experience. Fortunately, that was a treat as always. Something about the speed and the wind through my hair was exhilarating and not terrifying. Another successful trip to Winter Wonderland.

It was time to meet my parents for dinner. This time we were going to try Rules, one of the oldest restaurants in London. It is beautifully decorated with wood paneling and antiques. There was the added touch of Christmas decorations in creative ways. The food was pretty tasty. I tried some oysters, which are always a delight.

That’s all for now!

Part 7: Prague and London

First thing in the morning was my speech to the Loyola Law Class. I have been giving a 40-60 minute lecture on local history for Loyola’s comparative Law class for the past five years. This year’s top was the London Underground. Usually, we have the lectures in the famous Middle Temple Hall, part of the Middle Temple Inn, a true treasure in London. (The Great Hall was where one of the first performances of Twelfth Night took place. Also, planks from Sir Francis Drake’s Golden Hind were made into tables there). THis year, the Hall was under construction so we had the proceedings elsewhere.

A few things about the London Underground. Most of the lines (save the newest ones after the 1930s) were independent companies with some big rivalries. Apparently, none of them made much money. Other profit lines like suburban homes or Underground Maps apparently made more money than the lines themselves.

There’s an interesting Chicago connection. Charles Yerkes, Philadelphian born “quintessential Victorian conman,” was in Chicago before his flight to London. He played a role in the development of the El. However, he tried to get a monopoly on busing contracts through extortion and blackmail, which earned him the ire of lots of people. There’s a story that famously corrupt aldermen Bathhouse John and HInky Dink Kenna were approached the mayor to stop this deal. Bathhouse John’s response was “I was talkin’ awhile back with Senator Billy Mason and he told me, ‘Keep clear of the big stuff, John. It’s dangerous.  You and Mike stick to the small stuff; there’s little risk and in the long run pays a damn sight more.” Mr. Mayor, we’re with you.” (Thanks to my husband for this one). So yeah, too corrupt a deal for them! He was run out of town (I believe an effigy was burned in front of city hall) and he eventually made his way to London. While corrupt and conning as always, he had a hand in financing many Underground lines, introducing US money into the British system.

The story goes that the first escalator was installed in 1911 at Earl Court’s station. People were super anxious but then a one legged man named Bumper Harris started going up and down the escalator. He and his descendents claimed that he was not paid to do it!

In the financing of the Bakerloo line, James Whitaker Wright was convicted of fraud in 1904 for 7 years of penal servitude. He allegedly handed his solicitor his watch and said “I won’t need this where I am going.” Then he died after biting into a hidden cyanide capsule.

The famous map of the underground was designed by Harry Beck, like an electrical circuit, in 1931. Initially it was rejected for being too revolutionary but was adopted in 1933 after the immense popularity of it.

Frank Pick was the Managing Director of London Underground and then the first Chief Executive of London Transport in the 1930s. He’s the man responsible for commissioning the look and feel the Tube. The logos, the branding as a whole, the posters advertising the city, was under his watch.

Below are some photos of various art seen in the stations of the Underground.

And while I could spend a lot more time on it, I’ll leave you with one last thing. During WWII, famously tube stations were used as bomb shelters. Apparently, individual stations had clubs for theater productions, dressmaking, darts and one even had a newspaper called “De profundis,” which is Latin for “from the depths.”

After my speech and the others for the morning, my husband and I decided to check out the exhibition on 20th century maps at the British Library nearby. What an amazing exhibition. The maps were segmented by use: survey use, war use, peacetime use, commerce and more. One of the most memorable ones was a map for children to fill in the borders at the conclusion of WWI, back when they thought the war would last weeks. So cavalier with politics! They even had Harry Beck’s map of the underground, which was a nice closing the loop for the day!

And as an added bonus, there was a pop-up shop dedicated their line of murder mysteries. It had a nice 1920s vibe going with a gramophone and decorations.

That evening, we went to see a lovely musical called Half A Sixpence that takes place at the turn of the last century. The musical is basically about a young boy who goes to the city to learn a trade and inherits a lot of money and has to learn how to handle this new world. It’s funny and sweet (kinda sorta passes the Bechdel test). Also, it had 30 people on stage playing banjo at one point, which made me immensely happy. The dancing was rather superb too.

That’s all for now!

Part 6: Prague and London

On our first full day of London, we started off at the Victoria & Albert Museum. It is now one of my favorite stops in London. For many years, I ignored it since I didn’t find it as compelling as the British Museum or National Gallery or something. Either their rebrand did the trick or I got older and realized that design is fascinated (or a combination of the two).

There’s always marvelous things to see at the V&A. They had a special exhibition on underwear that we decided to check out. Yes, underwear. It was underwear over the ages, briefly touching on lingerie. So less kinky than you might have thought. But it was super fascinating. I learned that maternity corsets were a thing, which is supremely horrifying. I also learned that there was a period known as the “bra wars” between rival companies Wonderbra and Ultrabra competed in the 20th century. I also learned that men’s shirts were considered underwear (like in the 18th century) because it was clothing next to their body. Things have changed!

The second floor of the exhibition had pieces from fashion designers, which was pretty cool. They covered themes like lingerie as outerwear, leisurewear etc. It was cool to see some of the pieces from recent Bond films.

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We continued our wandering around the museum and found some other amazing artifacts like this saucer and cup with hands by Peter Ting in the China section. I love how they intersperse older objects with new modern pieces. I did find a child’s radio and cassette tape box that I owned as a child in the Japan section, which was a bit sobering!

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After a brief stop off at the Albert Memorial for my husband, we decided to go back to our secret tea shop in Soho: Soho’s Secret Tea shop. We had gone the prior year and loved it. You have to enter a pub and ask for the tea shop upstairs. You go up a staircase behind the bar into a single tea room with 1940s/1950s music playing. Each table is laid out with a different cup and saucer. They have a nice tea selection and homemade cakes. Highly recommend it both for the fun of the secrecy and the tea!

Then we decided to go shoe shopping on Carnaby street and Regent’s street. As we turned the corner from the secret tea shop, we made an amazing discovery: a gallery with official Harry Potter graphic art. This four story shop had designs from the 7 HP movies and Fantastic Beasts. The top floor had the covers of Hogwarts textbooks, another room had wanted posters, another was filled with labels from products from Weasley’s joke shop, the Quibbler front covers etc. It was beautifully decorated throughout the building. It was super thrilling to be able to check this out!

After we accomplished our missions to find shoes in London, we decided to take a quick turn around the National Portrait Gallery. My husband had never been! So we spent most of the time in the Tudor and earlier section looking at the portraits of Richard III and Henry VIII and various wives. One of the portraits of Edward VI was a cool optical illusion!We went a bit later to see portraits of Admiral Nelson, Laurence Sterne. Sadly, we didn’t have more time there before we had to rush home for dinner!


A good day!

Part 5: Prague and London

The next (and last) leg of our trip was several days in London. It has to be one of my favorite cities. I feel like it is a second home. Granted, I lived there for a month in college.

As soon as we got to London proper, we decided to chuck all our stuff and run to the British Museum. After many years of going, things have changed there. Now you have to get in line and go through a tent on the side where your bag is checked. New world we live in. But once inside, we made a beeline to the Egyptian Galleries, always my first stop. I love saying hello to the beautiful bronze cat, tinted green by the Victorians. Then we wandered through the Parthenon marbles that now have brochures about the controversy. Naturally I picked one up and noted that when asked if it was right to have the Parthenon marbles in England. Notably, it points out several other non-Greek museums with the marbles. The everyone else does it defense. Some stone pieces made a point of noting that it was stolen by X army (not British though). You can read the text here: https://www.britishmuseum.org/about_us/news_and_press/statements/parthenon_sculptures.aspx

Anyway, we continued our wanderings upstairs, checking out the Egyptian mummies. There was a lovely exhibition on shadow puppets that we enjoyed. The show had puppets from many different cultures including recent ones where puppets wore tracksuits and had handguns. 

After our museum trip, we ran two essential errands: Fortnum and Masons and Hatchards. Fortnum and Masons is a fancy British department store where the Queen and other members of the royal family go. We go there on each trip because I’m obsessed with their fruit flavored black teas. Compared to the rest of hte store, their teas are relatively inexpensive and I often buy a suitcase of it to go home (Has to last until the next trip). The Christmas windows were pretty amazing and unexpectedly political during this time. Each window brought together two natural enemies: hunter and the wolf, bull and china. Each pairing was happy and positive with a tagline “Together We’re Merrier.”

Next is Hatchards, right next door. It’s one of the finest bookshops in the world. It also supplies the Royal household. They just have a great selection of books including many gems.

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We meandered our way back to the hotel, after visiting the large British tourist shop so my husband could stock up. Dinner that evening was delicious Indian food near the hotel.

That’s all for now!